Mark Hunt, planners put Conoco app on the fast track
Developer Mark Hunt was at Monday night’s Aspen City Council meeting, not knowing that an emergency ordinance on land-use applications in commercial districts would be introduced.
He and his planner, Mitch Haas, and attorney, Jody Edwards, were there on other business — to reinstate the application for his Base Lodge on Cooper Avenue because of a clerical error that threatened to jeopardize the project.
But when City Manager Steve Barwick announced Ordinance 7 would go to a first reading that night and a second and final reading the next day, Hunt got to work on another property he owns — 232 E. Main St., where the Conoco service station is located.
He had yet to file a land-use application for the space but knew that if the moratorium passed, the project would be shelved indefinitely.
Haas was “buried” with numerous projects, said Hunt, who turned over the plans to the upstart planning firm BendonAdams, run by name partners Chris Bendon and Sara Adams, both of whom resigned from the city’s Community Development Department at the end of 2015.
“They got to work Monday night,” Hunt said. “We had the plans and a bunch of iterations of what we wanted to do. We had to put our best foot forward.”
Bendon and Adams took on the job, working through the night to submit the application before 5 p.m. Tuesday, when the moratorium took effect.
“I don’t think there’s any question (Hunt) was going to pursue a development on that property,” Bendon said. “He had already shared his vision with the community.”
The city’s ethics code mandates that former city employees are disqualified for six months after their departure from working on “matters which were generally within the former employee’s official responsibility where the city is a party or has a direct or substantial interest.” The code adds that “such former employees shall be disqualified from acting as a principal or as an agent for another on said matters for a period of six months following the former employee’s employment with the city.”
As city employees, Adams and Bendon both worked on Hunt’s Base2 Lodge land-use application for 232 E. Main St. The project ultimately was rejected by Aspen voters by a 2-1 margin in the November elections.
True, however, said the six-month disqualification didn’t apply to them on this week’s submission, because the land-use application is for an entirely different development — a commercial building that will replace a demolished Conoco service station. Had Hunt proposed another lodge on the same property, Adams and Bendon would not have been allowed to work on the developer’s behalf, True said.
“If anyone asks me to do a formal opinion, I can do that,” True said. “This is a new matter, even though it’s on the same property they may have discussed in the past. But it’s a totally new application.”
Hunt, who has invested more than $100 million in downtown commercial property acquisitions, said all of his projects are in the city pipeline and won’t be affected by the freeze on land-use applications.
“I don’t disagree with the moratorium,” he said. “There’s so much to the land-use code and the Aspen Area Community Plan, and that’s what driving this. As long as (City Council) takes this time and uses it as an opportunity to pull those two together, I think it will be good in the long run.”
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